The statement that “every species is and behaves like it needs to in order to survive” an adversity, is a view Yann Martel, like many other writers and philosophers believe in. To ensure clarity in this essay, ‘survival’ is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the state or fact of continuing to live or exist, typically in spite of an accident, ordeal or difficult circumstance”. In this context, ‘to live or exist’ means the preservation of ones mental state; the sustaining of what makes us humans and not just surviving primarily by instinct in order to fulfill the basic needs of the body.
In addition, adversity is the “difficulties or misfortunes that are an unpleasant circumstance” where one is pushed to their limits, faced with the brink of death. Though the instincts of survival are important as it is the fundamental mechanism for survival, it can be argued, however, that hope as it bequeaths one with the will to live, is the most important aspect taken into consideration when one reasons about survival. Johan Heinrich Pestalozzi, a Swiss pedagogue and educational reformer, clarifies that we will not prioritise survival because our ‘higher nature’ dominates with the presence of hope.
Pestalozzi describes a human being as having two sides, the ‘animal nature’ and the ‘higher nature’, where the former consists of basic instincts that humans and animals have in common which are mainly to satisfy the needs of the body and so preserve the individual and the human race. In order words, it is the desires that give man physical pleasure whereas the later consists of the ability to perceive truth, to show love, to believe in God, to listen to one’s own conscience, to do justice, and to see and realise higher values and bear responsibility, which lifts humans a level above animals.
A ‘divine spark’ exists in this ‘higher nature’ and this is what causes man to have hope which gives them the ability to have faith in God and eternal salvation. Like Pestalozzi, writers such as Cormac McCarthy in his novel The Road present the idea that hope dictates the extent one would go to in order to survive through the journey of the protagonist as they tread along a forsaken “patch of highway peopled with cannibals and marauders” while maintaining the humanity within them.
Similar to McCarthy, Daniel Defoe and William Golding present the idea of hope governing survival through their respective texts Robinson Crusoe and Lord of the Flies, both depicting survival through victims who are stranded on an inhabitable island with close to zero hope of survival. In order to reason against the idea that survival instincts preponderates when faced with adversity, the authors of all three texts erect a stage in which the characters are pressured to their very limits, creating a situation of dire hopelessness by making good use of setting.
One noticeable aspect in all three novels is the complete eradication of a ‘civilised’ society where the sense of security and comfort that it gives is stripped away and the characters are thrusted into a situation of minimal hope in which their ‘flight or fight’ response is triggered. Civilisation in this context would mean “the comfort and convenience of modern life, regarded as available only in towns and cities”. The Road, set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, displays a society unlike our humane world, “largely populated by man who would soon eat your children in front of your eyes”.
In contrast to McCarthy, Golding designs a structured society which follows British democracy as the boys had a “vote for a Chief”. In addition, the boys “had rules and obeyed them” as Ralph says it “after all, we’re not savages”. However, this civilisation soon degrades as the children’s primal instincts protrude. Unlike McCarthy and Golding, there is a complete absence of a ‘civilised’ society in Robinson Crusoe. However, similar to the other protagonists, Robinson Crusoe “had a dreadful deliverance”of being shipwrecked and having no “prospects before me but that of perishing with hunger, or being devoured by wild beasts”.
Through the lack of society, all three authors fabricate a scene where survival and hope are clearly shown, in order to justify their view of hope dictating survival. All three authors exploited the general fears of their respective audience in order to captivate as well as convey their point of how hope influences survival, clearly. The horrendous idea of a post-apocalyptic wasteland and nuclear holocaust is a fear that was only introduced to the 21st century public due to the arms race and the impending threat of a third world war.
In The Road, Cormac McCarthy concocts a post-apocalyptic wasteland and he continually reminds readers of the landscapes bleakness and how it is an “ashen scabland”, “barren, silent, godless”. In fact, much in the novel seems abandoned; belongings, homes, cities, even the whole world. The emptiness that readers get through this novel portrays a sense of “godless” despair. Golding and Defoe fashion an environment of hopelessness, akin to McCarthy by marooning their protagonists on an uninhabited island; removed from ‘civilisation’, lack of basic necessities and the minute chance of being rescued creates the similar sense of despair.
Lord of the Flies and Robinson Cruso, published in 1954 and 1719 respectively, cater to societies oblivious to the threats of a nuclear catastrophe. Both authors chose an uninhabited island as a setting as one of the most central fears was and still is being trapped in a place far from civilisation. It is this hopeless situation that aids in presenting the important message of the necessity of hope. Just like Friedrich Nietzsche’s statement that “fear is the mother of morality”, without the creation of fear, the message of hope dominating in survival would not be prominent.
The depiction of the various characters introduced in the three texts help to portray how hope is the main influence in survival when faced with an adversity. Such as Plato’s philosophies hints at, the depiction of characters in the book illuminates the general idea of how man, when faced with a desperate situation, falls from grace in an effort to survive “because people are selfish and are willing to do whatever it takes to live and they are going to violate others in order to better themselves”.
We see through the characters in the novels, that there are two distinct groups formed in the face of adversity, one with the domination of the ‘animal nature’, losing their humanity and willing to “violate others in order to better themselves”, the other being the form in which humanity and sanity is preserved and in which the ‘higher nature’ prevails. During the hopeless situation depicted in all three novels, many characters become the embodiment of the ‘animal nature’; the nature that literally is the dark side of human nature.
The dark side is supposedly the more dominant side during a crisis because fundamentally, we are basically thought to be egocentric in all out actions, as Thomas Hobes puts it we “are materialistic and seek self-interest”. This bestial side is prominent in Lord of the Flies more evidently in Jack, whose primitive, animalistic and irrational nature becomes more domineering as the novel progresses.
Likewise, through the depiction of the “bad guys” in The Road, who resort to cannibalism and attempt to cook an “infant” which is later found “charred, headless and gutted and blackening on a spit”, we bear witness to the animosity of the ‘animal nature’. The charred bodies and tattooed skulls, that the protagonists of The Road, ‘The Man’ and ‘The Boy” come across illuminates the degeneration of mankind which has surmounted itself in the scarring of the human body – nothing is sacred anymore and the Earth has become a place where men eat other men.
In essence, humanity has lost its humaneness and civilisation has collapsed. Comparatively, the extinction of ‘civilisation’ is also seen through the characteristics of Jack Meridew in The Lord of the Flies as he hungers for “meat” and craving for power, leads the group of boys into anarchy and feels indifferent about the deaths of Simon and Piggy even though he is the leading cause. The “bad guys” from The Road, enslave the meek, consume their children, and torture and butcher anything that gets in their way; showing degradation into the ‘animal nature’ as theirs is the domain of survival at any cost, just like Jack.
In my opinion, the “bad guys” do not truly survive as give up their humanity and renounce their ‘higher nature’, becoming no different from animals; losing all sense of human qualities and living only based on instinct. In Robinson Crusoe, the lost of ‘cavilisation’ and humanity is not depicted as there are no ‘bad guys’. The reason may be due to the 18th century belief that the human nature is endowed with a innate sense of natural compassion prior to reasoning; hence mankind was though to be naturally good as Jean-Jeacques Rousseau explains in his book ‘Discourse on the Moral Effects of Science’, published in 1749.
The psychological analysis on the dark side of human nature only began during the Victorian era, hence prior to the Victorian era, the possibility of man having an ‘animal nature’ was unheard of. Though most characters introduced in all three novels succumb to the ‘animal nature’, the protagonists become a beacon of humanity and the ‘higher nature’ throughout the novels. It is a marvel ho Robinson Crusoe manages to survive by himself on an uninhabited island before the arrival of Friday moreover, being able to convert a savage into a ‘civilised’ person.
Jean-Jacqueas Rousseau applauds Crusoe’s do-it-yourself attitude, and hands-on approach to life as his actions truly are remarkably for someone who “had a dreadful deliverance” of being shipwrecked and marooned. Just like Crusoe who shows resilience through his trials, the protagonists of The Road, do not falter and practice cannibalism like the “bad guys” depicted. The two protagonists, “The Man” and “The Boy”, are one of the few “good guys” portrayed through the novel and given human characteristics such as love for family, empathy, guilt and mercy.
Similarly, Golding utilizes characterisation to sculpt Jack and Ralph as the embodiments of the two different sides of the human nature. Ralph and Jack are used as foils as they both play the role of a leader on the island and the fact that they are the only two boys that are depicted as “tall” and “strong”. Ralph in contrast to Jack, embodies the more ‘civilised’ nature, the ‘higher nature’, in the sense that he does not falter in keeping the moral codes of a ‘civilised’ society.
All the protagonists display a fortitude that is a far cry from what the general concept of how people would react in these situations and this leads readers to question how they are able to retain and preserve that ‘higher nature’. The main element that separates the ‘good guys’ from the ‘bad guys’ in all novels is hope. Hope is fundamentally imperative to retain the ‘higher nature’ which holds and values ethics and morality. Hope is the key element that elevates the protagonists and governs the extent one would go to in order to survive.
The protagonists in all three texts keep their ‘higher nature’ solely because of the hope that resides within them. McCarthy. Defoe as well as Golding, symbolically embeds hope through characters and objects. In The Road, “The Boy” acts as his father, “The Man’s” beacon of hope; guiding him through the darkness of their world, giving him hope to continue his existence in a damned world, in other words the “child was all that stood between him and death”. There were times where “The Man” “did not envy the dead” but he carries on in order to guarantee the salvation of “The Boy”.
This perseverance is exactly what ‘The Man’s wife’ means by her line “the one thing I can tell you is that you won’t survive for yourself”. This idea of living for someone or something else is seen through the other two novels. In Lord of the Flies there isn’t any evidence of living for others but the boys hold on to the hope of being rescued and returning to ‘civilisation’, especially Ralph. However, as their hope slowly dwindled away, the boys descended into savagery, Ralph included, who felt a rush of power and pride as he stabbed a pig, and most importantly, was an active part of the murder of Simon.
Lord of the Flies acts as a contrast, showing how without hope, there is no chance of survival. Robinson Crusoe is different from ‘The Man’ and Ralph as he survives solely because he believes God has offered him salvation. Robinson Crusoe believes that it is “through God’s providence” that he is redeemed and he lives for God as seen through his actions of converting Friday into a Christian. One similarity between The Road and Lord of the Flies is the symbolism of fire. In McCarthy’s novel, there is a repetitive reference to a “fire” and how the “good guys” carry “the fire”.
This fire, the kind found within the self, is a symbol of hope. Instead of succumbing to the circumstances and resorting to evil acts in order to survive, the father and son duo carrying the fire, survive without compromising their humanity. McCarthy demonstrates that the duo carries the fire throughout the novel, since no matter what horror they narrowly escape, they always help others that are in need, offering food to Ely, an old man they met on the road, because “The Boy” still “believes in God” in a place where “man cant live” and “gods fare no better”.
In Lord of the Flies, hope is shown symbolically through the beacon fire. The beacon fire is imperative to the boys on the island as it provides them with the only chance of survival and the only chance to return to civilisation. This beacon fire is interconnected with the ‘fire’ the boys ‘carry’. As the hope of being rescued slowly fades and their inner ‘fire’ dies out, the boys begin to neglect the fire and the social state of the island begins to degrade as more boys follow Jack and his savage ways.
Eventually, the ‘animal nature’ predominates and the signal fire is completely eradicated. Unlike the other two texts, in Robinson Crusoe ‘the Bible’ becomes the symbol of hope, not fire. ‘The Bible’ acts as Robinson Crusoe’s compass in life and gives him “a true scripture view of hope” which is not akin to the hopes of the protagonist in the other two texts. Besides being his compass, ‘the Bible’ helps him move from day to day in addition to maintaining his sanity in his solitude as he reinforces his faith with verses such as “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee”.
Without hope, there will only be a melancholic future as hope gives men something to fight for, it prevent them from giving up; “this is what good guys do, they keep trying. They don’t give up”. Lord of the Flies conveys this melancholic world without hope well as when ‘civilisation’ on the island fails and hope is lost, the savages began to kill and hunt those who do not follow them, including Ralph and Piggy.
In opposition to Friedrich Nietzsche who explains that “hope in reality is the worst of all the evils because it prolongs the torment of men”, hope does not prolong the “torment” but makes the “torment” bearable as they have something to live for. The reason why the protagonist we’re able to survive their respective ordeals is because they had hope. Without hope, they would’ve perished like the rest who are in a similar situation. Men, like Robinson Crusoe, are only able to make it through their ordeal solely because they have hope.
In conclusion, as Friedrich Nietzsche puts it, “he who has a why to live can bare almost anyhow”. Hope is the ‘why’ that enables humans to bear the pangs of adversity. Without hope, we will basically resort back to animals, living based on instinct. It is hope which preserves our humanity and governs the extent we go to in order to survive, illuminating the bleakest of hours. Therefore, with the use of setting, characterisation as well as symbolism, McCarthy, Defoe and Golding has shown the importance of having hope through their respective texts.